Hussh | Navigating the petrostate paradox at Cop28

Navigating the petrostate paradox at Cop28

// Hidden Stories Series

Navigating the petrostate paradox at Cop28

November 24, 2023
As the world teeters on the brink of a climate emergency, the simplicity of its cause belies the complexity of its solution.

The heart of the matter still seems pretty clear to me: a significant proportion of existing fossil fuel reserves must remain untapped to avert a global catastrophe. Not too tricky, right?

Yet, in a stark contradiction to this essential truth, the fossil fuel industry’s relentless pursuit of new fields continues unabated. Time, already a precious commodity, is running thin. The palpable effects of this crisis, in the form of lethal heatwaves and devastating floods, are already claiming lives and disrupting livelihoods across the globe.

It’s within this foreboding context that the United Nations climate summits—specifically the upcoming Cop28—gain paramount importance. These summits represent the pinnacle of global efforts to galvanise action against the climate threat.

However, the forthcoming Cop28, scheduled to commence on 30 November in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—a notable petrostate—presents an inherent conflict of interest that is difficult to overlook. More so, when the president of Cop28, Sultan Al Jaber, also helms the UAE’s state oil company, Adnoc.

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Al Jaber’s comments to-date suggest a deep insider’s perspective: that only someone ingrained in the fossil fuel industry can truly transform it. His dual role as the chair of Masdar, a renewable energy company, and the UAE’s climate envoy further bolsters his unique positioning to mediate the divergent objectives of the 197 attending countries.

In scrutinising the UAE’s climate track record in the lead-up to Cop28, the findings are disconcerting. Adnoc, under Al Jaber’s leadership, reportedly harbours the most ambitious expansion plans that stand in direct opposition to net-zero goals. Furthermore, investigations from the Guardian have uncovered that the state-run oil and gas fields in the UAE have been routinely flaring gas, blatantly contradicting a two-decade-old commitment to zero routine flaring.

This is coupled with the UAE’s decade-long omission in reporting its methane emissions to the UN,, collectively casting a shadow over its capacity to impartially steer Cop28 towards meaningful climate action.

Fiona Harvey’s recent interview with Al Jaber revealed his staunch belief in an integrated approach to addressing climate change; one that necessitates the participation of high-emitting industries, including oil and gas.

His initiative, the Global Decarbonization Alliance (GDA), aims to enlist oil and gas companies in making firm climate pledges. However, the absence of commitments to halt new exploration or development—as necessitated by scientific consensus—raises questions about the GDA’s efficacy in effecting substantial change.

For years, many have viewed the fossil fuel industry with scepticism, questioning its sincerity in addressing the climate crisis—a sentiment echoed by the UN’s Climate Chief Christiana Figueres and the architect of the Paris Agreement.

Having once held hope for the industry’s potential pivot towards clean energy, she has now expressed disillusionment, citing the industry’s preference for profit over the planet. Figueres’ frustration is emblematic of a broader disenchantment with the fossil fuel sector, perceived as a primary architect of the 21st-century climate disaster.

I feel like we say this every year, however the upcoming Cop28 really does feel like a critical juncture for what happens next; and importantly, a moment of reckoning for the fossil fuel industry.

Can the unconventional choice of Al Jaber and the UAE as hosts of the summit yield a climate victory, however unlikely it may appear? US climate envoy John Kerry recently described Cop28 as an experimental gamble, encapsulating the global anticipation and scepticism surrounding the event.

In truth, the annual Cop events are not just another summit; they instead offer a litmus test for the fossil fuel industry’s role in climate action, and pose a fundamental question: Can a petrostate, deeply enmeshed in the very industry at the heart of the climate crisis, rise above its vested interests to champion a cause that may seemingly undermine its core business?

The answer to this will not only shape the trajectory of future climate action but will also serve as a reflection of our collective commitment to a sustainable future.

In a world where the impacts of climate change are no longer abstract threats but lived realities, the actions and decisions made at Cop28 will reverberate through generations. The summit offers an opportunity, albeit fraught with challenges, to steer the global community towards a path of resilience and sustainability.

Whether it can live up to this optimistic hope, remains to be seen.

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